The fashion for “maxi” (full-length) and “midi” (below-the-knee length) skirts made it to suburban Florida in the late 60s. Although Riverhills was a public school with no other dress code, we were told that midis and maxis were forbidden, with no explanation given. Now I understand that that rule was an attempt by nervous administrators to keep out the rebellious spirit of the teenagers who were wearing those clothes. But in fourth grade, I just thought the ban on longer skirts was silly, since it was “minis,” the super-short skirts, that were considered indecent. How could clothing that was more modest be problem? The prohibition gave me the idea of wearing the outlawed outfits, and I had the desire because my older sister wore maxis, and because I wanted to show off a little.
At that time, my older cousin Diane had been suspended from her school for wearing a skirt that she’d made out of a pair of cut-off jeans. It was apparently too short and too creative, and she was punished by being sent home. (Note: Diane went on to become a menswear designer and runway model, so there, Florida public schools!) Impressed by my cousin, and eager to join the ranks of the outre, I convinced one of my friends to join me in wearing long skirts to school one day.
On Sunday, we went through my “dress-up box” and selected our next day’s clothes. My friend chose a full-length reddish skirt, and I picked a lacy, stiff, and below-the-knee black one, something that had long ago belonged to my mother. Of course it was big on me and the waistband kept slipping down, but I could pin it into place, and it was impressively long and unusual. It brushed oddly against my legs as I walked to school. My friend and I approached the side door, full of excitement and glamour. People were looking at us! Someone said something about maxi-skirts, and I said, “It’s a midi!”
Within seconds of entering the building, we were spotted and stopped. A tall, scandalized teacher, not our own, spotted us in the hallways and told us we had to go home and change. She didn’t even say why — she knew we knew. I never got the pleasure of seeing my classmates’ reaction to my skirt, and I never got to test my own teacher’s tolerance. Deflated, I went home and put on something normal, and went back to school to learn whatever dull lessons I was supposed to learn that day.
Gillian Kendall’s early fashion-model career having been thwarted, she became a writer instead. Www.gilliankendall.org
Gillian Kendall is an American-Australian writer who has lived in five countries and eight states. She has been a barmaid, editorial assistant, English professor, tech writer, and parliamentary reporter. She’s called herself a feminist ever since she heard the term at Douglass College, the women’s branch of Rutgers University. The label has gotten her into a few arguments and once landed her a job at "Mademoiselle." She lives in Florida and does all sorts of writing: travel and nonfiction journalism, as well as fiction, essays, and memoirs. gilliankendall.org